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Luther Students Ask College To Delay Return To In-Person Classes

Luther College bell

Hundreds of students, parents and alumni are asking Luther College in Decorah to wait to see how the holidays impact COVID-19 numbers before returning to in-person instruction.

Luther President Jenifer Ward announced this week students must return to campus for in-person instruction starting Monday, unless they have a documented condition that puts them at a high risk for complications from COVID-19.

The college said local coronavirus infections have declined since classes went online after Thanksgiving and are now at a similar level to October when learning was done in-person.

As of Tuesday, around 1,300 people including nearly 40 percent of students had signed a petition requesting to keep classes online for the remaining three weeks of the semester which ends January 28th. Petition organizers caution that bringing students back to campus, only for many to leave again over the upcoming semester break, will create more opportunities for the virus to spread.

Senior student body president Madeline Lomprey said she has confidence in the college’s mitigation protocols in lecture halls, but she knows some students are not following recommendations to avoid crowds and unnecessary travel. She said that’s clear from her social media feeds where she saw other students going out on New Year’s Eve.

“I wouldn’t go out to the bar, but I see pictures almost every weekend on social media of people that are,” Lomprey said. “It only takes a few minutes for (the virus) to spread if you’re all sitting in the same room, and so we really need to be more proactive than just waiting for those indicators to rise again.”

Shannon Schultz is a junior studying biology at Luther who worked with Lomprey and others to create the petition. She said University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a Luther alumnus, warned in a virtual lecture last fall that “pandemic fatigue” could put students, faculty and staff at risk.

“COVID is hard,” Schultz said. “People just get less and less worried about these consequences.”

Laura Barlament, Executive Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Luther, said in a statement that the college’s COVID Response Team will continue monitoring infection numbers across campus and the community, but at the current time they’re improving.

“Local COVID indicators have been on a downward trend; and, when in-person classes resume, 10 days (the CDC’s recommended quarantine time period) will have passed since the holidays,” Barlament said. “We believe the data indicate that a return to in-person learning is the best option for the college community, recognizing that some of our community members feel stress and concern.”

Barlament said the college will soon expand testing on campus and has hired additional temporary staff to assist Winneshiek County Public Health with contact tracing.